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Could schools in Norwich embrace 'virtual reality' teaching?

John Greenwood, head of the Develop EBP centre in Norwich, which teaches specialist IT and media courses. Picture: Thom Law Photography

John Greenwood, head of the Develop EBP centre in Norwich, which teaches specialist IT and media courses. Picture: Thom Law Photography

Thom Law Photography

Could your children, or grandchildren, be taught by artificial intelligence or through virtual reality? Will traditional classrooms still exist? As part of our focus on a future Norwich, Bethany Whymark reports.

How far could the use of technology in Norwich's classrooms go? Picture: David Jones/PA WireHow far could the use of technology in Norwich's classrooms go? Picture: David Jones/PA Wire

With technology already making its way into the classroom through iPads, smart white boards and online homework, educators in the city have questioned how far the digitisation of the classroom could go.

John Greenwood manages the Develop EBP Norwich centre, which offers specialist IT and creative media courses.

He has studied the impact of computers on society with his students and believes technology, particularly augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), could bring big changes to teaching.

“The main problem with education is some pupils have to go a long way to get somewhere that is relevant for them,” he said. “What if they could go to any school they wanted and learn by putting on a headset?

“Learning could be taken to a completely new level where you plug into a virtual classroom and it will be interesting to see how far that goes.

Selene Sawyer., chief executive of the Inclusive Schools Trust, which runs Norwich schools including Lionwood Junior. 
Picture: ArchantSelene Sawyer., chief executive of the Inclusive Schools Trust, which runs Norwich schools including Lionwood Junior. Picture: Archant

“Students seem to be getting more and more choices as digital enables those kinds of learning techniques.”

He added: “Individual centres will become more specialist, because I don’t think we can afford not to be. In big places which do a lot of courses we are struggling to guarantee quality in specific areas. I have friends who teach multiple subjects but you are never going to get the best teaching you could from that.”

While Mr Greenwood says the concept of the “paperless office” could soon come to the classroom, he is not convinced that technology could take teaching jobs.

“I don’t think it will go that way as teaching is one of the roles that will not easily be automated and for many learners that education is essential for them to develop the skills they need,” he said.

“Online classes might be an enabling technique for people with learning difficulties, but how would it impact on their social development and integration into society?”

Mr Greenwood said technology and data could also be used to keep a closer eye on pupils’ progress to take pressure off exams as a “yardstick”.

It follows changes to Ofsted’s school inspection criteria, due to come into force in September, which prize the quality of teaching and purpose of a curriculum over exam performance.

Selene Sawyer, chief executive of the Inclusive Schools Trust, which runs six schools including Lionwood Junior and Infant Schools, in Wolfe Road, Norwich, said school curriculums had to be responsive “to meet the needs of children in the 21st century”.

“You cannot create a curriculum that stands still, they have to evolve,” she said.

Ms Sawyer feels the advent of academies has given school leaders greater freedom around pupils’ learning.

John Greenwood, head of the Develop EBP centre in Norwich, advises a student during a class. Picture: Thom Law PhotographyJohn Greenwood, head of the Develop EBP centre in Norwich, advises a student during a class. Picture: Thom Law Photography

“With academies there was a space created that had never really been created before for schools to be able to design learning for their children with more of a blank canvas than we have ever had,” she said.

“That meant you could be more creative in what you were able to offer for children.

“Our moral imperative has always been about life-long learning. When children enter our schools at three we are thinking about the social mobility agenda and making sure as many of those children as possible have the opportunity to get five GCSEs and go on to further education and a good job.

“We wanted to maintain the individual ethos at all of our schools. I think that is really important for the future so you don’t just get a ‘one size fits all’ situation.”

The Inclusive Schools Trust is part of the Norwich Opportunity Area scheme, a £6m three-year project which is aiming to lay the foundations for social mobility in the city to improve.

School pupils in Norfolk taking part in a virtual reality workshop. Picture: TOFTWOOD INFANT SCHOOLSchool pupils in Norfolk taking part in a virtual reality workshop. Picture: TOFTWOOD INFANT SCHOOL

But Ms Sawyer cautioned that the investment could become “Monopoly money” if not invested wisely.

“You want it to make sustainable impact for the future. We need to make sure that every grant creates something that can stand on its own,” she said.

Mr Greenwood said the slow pace of educational reform made the future hard to predict.

“What it could look like is very different to what it will look like due to social and legislative factors,” he said. “Would parents like their children to be taught by AI [artificial intelligence]?”

Pupils at Howard Junior School, in King's Lynn, learning in their iMac suite. Picture: Gregory HillPupils at Howard Junior School, in King's Lynn, learning in their iMac suite. Picture: Gregory Hill

• We’re looking at various issues in Norwich and how they may change in the coming years this week.

• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking at www.thenorwichsociety.org.uk/events is recommended.

• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).

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